Rapper Dres’ deep love for music is what makes the new Paramount+ documentary, The Choice Is Yours, a must-see.
Andres “Dres” Vargas-Titus was the lyricist at the forefront of the New York hip-hop group Black Sheep with William “Mista Lawnge” McLean. The highly respected duo quickly rose to fame after the release of their debut album, A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing. The project included one of the most recognized rap songs of all time, “The Choice Is Yours,” which is still being used for commercials and sampled by new artists like Lola Brooke.
Not long after they dropped their sophomore album, Non-Fiction, in 1994, the pair called it quits. Despite the breakup, Dres continued to release music as an independent artist.
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While on his solo journey, the entrepreneur had an encounter with a member of the late music producer J Dilla’s mother in Puerto Rico that put him in a position for a strong comeback despite never retiring from music. The documentary takes music fans behind the scenes of Dres’ experience crafting rhymes over the Chicago legend’s unheard beats. Ahead of the film’s debut, the music veteran talked with Blavity about his career journey and what he hopes viewers take away from it.
Dres’ career didn’t keep him in the limelight for long due to Black Sheep’s short-lived run. Although he never stopped performing and creating music throughout the past 25 years, he went back to living the life of a regular civilian in many ways, which wasn’t as life-changing for him as some may think.
“Before I made music, I had the ability to make money. I wasn’t necessarily someone that wasn’t going to succeed at life without music,” he told Blavity. “There are those who look at music as if, ‘It wasn’t for music, I wouldn’t be here.’ I’m not exactly sure what I would be doing, but I’d be here.”
“I would say you have to be able to like, just walk through the days when it is hard. Like, every day is not gonna be you on top of the world, you know what I’m saying? Every day is not gonna be, you know, this great top-tier artist. Some of the challenge is for you to wake up when it’s all over and then to do it again. Like that’s a great reason to get up,” he added.
He shared the story of the Recording Academy inviting him to participate in the Grammy’s celebration of hip-hop’s 50th-anniversary segment to highlight how he’s one of the “luckiest people you will ever meet” because his career was built on just being himself.
“I recently got the opportunity to perform for the Grammys 50th hip hop [tribute] right? Now when they reached out, they reached out and asked for Dres, and it was brought back to them, ‘Did you mean Black Sheep? Black [Sheep] the duo?'” he said. “And their response was, ‘No, we meant Dres.’ Wow, now that was it for me. To me, I did it.”
He continued, “I got from that place [the pinnacle of his career] to that place and I didn’t need to perform by myself. I did it. The success was done, so I turned to Lawnge and said, ‘Yo, come do this with me.’ Like, I did it, and the world doesn’t have to know that I did it, I know. So that meant everything to me, you know what I’m saying? Like everything. And it’s been a walk, but I believe that I could get to that place and everything is good. I’m good. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Dres explained his hunger for creating original music has never died because it’s his first love and he’s in awe of the art he can put together as a music artist.
“There’s a respect and a walk that comes with, I think, doing something that speaks to and for people, you know what I’m saying? I also am thoroughly engrossed in having the ability to make something that’s dope,” he said. “Like to make, it’s one thing to make a song, but it’s another thing to make a dope song, something that I think that people will gravitate to globally without being pushed to. I’ve seen that happen, you know, in my career with various songs and to have that ability.”
“I think it’s something that really pushes an artist forward, whereas, you know, like you’re really trying to create something that matters…that is timeless,” he added. “It’s your voice. It’s you living beyond yourself even, you know what I’m saying? When done correctly. So all of these things are something that a musician even carries with him.”
In addition, he spoke on becoming “greater later” because sometimes essential music is ahead of its time so it may not receive its flowers until the person is long gone.
“I might not even be here when people realize the last 25 years that exist and see the things that exist and things thereof,” he said. “Like they were blinded by some of the things that were really glossy, but there was a whole undercurrent that afforded me a life, you know what I’m saying? Like, this is why I got into it when I got into it. There were no millionaires or billionaires, so it couldn’t have been the reason why I did it. I did it because I love being dope. I did it because I love sharing it. I love performing it. I love writing. I love finding it. I love being a part of something that is so much me walking to my own heartbeat.”
This led Dres to speak on ageism in hip-hop as he believes it’s the only genre that doesn’t embrace growing older. Instead of simply continuing to acknowledge and respect the pioneers or people who came before them, he’s noticed after a certain amount of years in the rap game, people are deemed “old.”
“Me being an older artist is for me to let a younger artist know like, ‘Yo, find the cats that mentored you that they don’t even know they mentored you, the cats that you listened to that made you wanna write, make sure they’re okay. It ain’t gotta be me. Whoever they are, make sure they’re okay. Pull them in on your tour. What you’re doing is you’re giving respect to the thing that has you doing it. You’re making more than they probably ever would make sure that they’re respected by you and that you share in some of your windfalls as a result of them, right?’ These are the notions that are important to our community that they’re not even recognizing,” he expressed.
“Make sure that you show an older cat how you wanna be treated when you become the older cat in five, seven years if you’re lucky. If you’re lucky in five, seven years, you’re now the older artist. Show that older artist how you wanna be treated when you’re not. These are the mentalities that need to be exemplified in hip hop,” he added.
Following the completion of the Dilla and Dres album, Dres doesn’t have a release date for the project. When discussing if he thinks it will actually see the light of day or turn into a project that is shelved, he mentioned he will do whatever it takes and is confident the public will hear it one day.
“Where my head is at, is this, there’s a power that comes with the release of this film, and the power is people seeing it,” he confessed. “I don’t know what it’s going to do, but I do feel like it’s going to do something, so I hope that one of the things that it does is that it just creates this dynamic where, you know, I can get it situated. ‘Cause it’s obviously something that the people would want. And, you know, given that dynamic, I think I can get the correct structure behind me to facilitate the various things that it’s gonna take to make it something that can be brought as is to the people.”
One of the things he hopes people take away from the documentary is the foundation hip hop was built on, discussing pressing issues and experiences that are current.
“I also thought was important was that you know, like our music should be reflective of, of the times and, and of our voices. And I think on various cuts, I nail it. Whereas, you know, like we speak to some of the things that we are seeing here, the music speaks to some of the things that some of the people that don’t have voices [feel],” Dres said. “It speaks for some of the things that music is supposed to do, you know, like music is supposed to be the voice of the time and of what we’re dealing with or what we’re seeing. And I think that’s not so much the case right now that I think that music has become this thing that everybody’s mimicking what they view success to be as opposed to just being an authentic soul word.”
The Choice Is Yours is now streaming on Paramount+.